Watching the British BBC series, Rev. recently, a scene between the local Imam, Yussef Hasan (played by Kayvan Novak) and the Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), Anglican priest, made me chuckle. As the pair walk around inner-city London, the Imam comments about Rev. Adam’s, “three Gods.”
The script is cleverly referring to the Christian trinity: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (G, J & HS). Three, yes. But one. The Holy Trinity. Which can be sort of confusing, even to someone who thinks they may have a slight inkling about Christianity.
Before I’d ever met the long-suffering SAP, I was firing him inquisitive emails about what I thought I knew about the Trinity from school, compared to the overlay of eastern philosophies and research into religious teachers that had formed in the intervening years. Like this one, drawing on my years of yoga and striving for non-attachment:
Do all the religious teachers get together at the end and say, “oops, you picked the wrong one?” Or do you say, so long as you make a choice, choose a way of life following ONE religious teaching, then it’s OK? That there’s a kind of traffic control at the final light, with all the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists etc shunted off in different directions?
The SAP’s reply:
All religions really aren’t the same…Morally, there are certain similarities here and there between some aspects of Buddhism and Christianity – as in basically be nice to each other. But the essential claim of Buddhism is that you can make it to ‘Nirvana’ on your own – and when you get there you are unconscious and unaware of anything or anyone around you because you’ve let go of all the attachments you have with people and places and experiences.
Jesus offers us something completely different. Sure, He says basically be nice to people. But…there are some massive claims Jesus makes that no one else makes. He keeps saying He’s God – that’s why they killed Him in the end. He keeps saying that He can forgive sin – no other ‘religious’ figure in history said that.
I recall the paragraph above striking me hard. I’d either forgotten or had never made the connection. I’d spent years happily justifying my position by saying Jesus was just another religious teacher. But He isn’t.
This is why I call Jesus the lightening rod. He is not simply another religious teacher who delivers a message from God. He is God. Made flesh. Who fulfils prophecy after Old Testament prophecy. Who performed miracles.
CS Lewis, atheist/agnostic turned theologian, whose book Mere Christianity was adapted from his series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944, while Lewis was at Oxford University, describes it well:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Which brings us to…spirit.
So God is Jesus. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is their unique brand of….umm…aftershave? Not the most elegant of metaphors. One image used in the Bible comes from nature. The word often translated “spirit” from Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible, also means “breath” or “wind.”
Another image is advocate or helper. When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he said, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14: 23-26)
An advocate is a person who stands beside you, works with you, and supports your cause. Christians believe the Holy Spirit can live within, filling hearts and minds with freedom, joy, purpose, and grace. In this way, the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus in our lives. Or, as I seem to experience it, smoothing out my rough edges.
My personal experience of the Holy Spirit hasn’t been as explicit as that of the disciples in Acts 2:3-4: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
No disrespect to Pentecostal Christians, but I suspect God is clever enough to know if He tried anything like that with me I’d be reaching for a few shots of flaming Sambuca. Shoving me awake at 3am with repetitive song lines? That’s enough.